Saturday, September 08, 2007

How Soccer Explains Everything

(My brilliant analogies always come to me after I've finished and published my rant o the day.)

What bugs me about the question "Where are the books for kids learning to read?" Isn't so much that I really think parents don't understand that kids start learning to read before they start actually reading. It's more that it's like they are all soccer coaches asking for advice on how to teach very young children how to play soccer, and all they are asking for are drills on how to kick the ball.

The unspoken assumption in the question "Where are the books for kids learning to read?" is that they are looking for books for children to read themselves. But that's not all kids need to do in order to be good readers. No more than all kids need to learn in order to play soccer well is how to kick the ball. They are both important, and the final goal can't be achieved without that skill, but kids that are only taught to read by actually reading are poor readers, just as kids who are taught only how to kick the ball make poor soccer players.

In soccer practice we would do all kids of drills. We would practice kicking all sorts of ways. We would practice kicking while doing other things at the same time. We would practice trapping the ball as well. Sometimes, we wouldn't even use the ball at all and we would run some extra laps for endurance or do quick sprints or shadow partners in order to practice running and changing direction quickly.

Most Easy Readers for kids that are just starting out are either sight readers or phonics readers or a combination of both. Like kicking the ball, this is the most basic and fundamental skill kids need to practice the most. But teaching kids to read with only those books is like running a soccer practice with only kicking drills. Most kids still learn to read just fine because so many of the other skills kids need to to become good readers are either integrated into daily life of deliberately inserted into their curriculum.

But when kids are struggling - or even if they aren't and parents just want to help the best they can - we don't just need to make sure that kids are getting the obvious stuff , we need to make sure they are getting all those other drills as well. We need to make sure we are increasing their endurance by still reading aloud to them. We need to make sure they are still motivated by making sure that the reading activities they have to do are fun as as possible. We need to teach them to pay attention by having activities that encourage comprehension (reading and otherwise).

We also need to learn when to let things go and when to work on weaknesses. If the kid is a lefty, you encourage him/her to practice kicking with both feet (like everybody else), but you also put him/her on the left side and thank your good fortune to have one on your team. Don't force a natural sight reader to always read phonetically and don't force a kid who is good at phonics to learn sight words that can be learned phonetically. And understand that asking for advice on Easy Readers is really complicated because so much of it depends on what your child needs to work on and what he or she shouldn't be forced to do too much of.

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